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Mai Err Chang

Mai Err’s AmeriCorps Story
July 20, 2018

I live in South Sacramento. I am familiar with the challenges folks face in this community. But after 5 years at UC Santa Cruz, I came back to my hometown not knowing what was happening. While looking for a job, I told myself I must find an organization that will re-introduce me to my own community. What are the needs? Where are the resources? It was then that I stumbled upon the Food Literacy Center.

I had recently returned from a study abroad program in Thailand, where I interned for Courageous Kitchen, assisting in a nutrition and cooking class for refugees. When I came back home, I was jobless and ended up cooking most of the meals for my family. I quickly realized how much health hazard there was in my own family’s diet: a lot of microwavable noodles and very little vegetables. It gave me the urgency to make a difference in my family and community, but starting with myself. Serving with Food Literacy Center was my step in taking responsibility to learn how to be a better advocate.

I learned about the challenge keeping up with a young nonprofit organization. With limited resources and new systems, running programs can be difficult, yet rewarding. Every day we pack the program box, travel to the school, set up our classrooms, facilitate, clean, and do it all over again the next day. Organizing the program takes leadership and independence. I have learned how crucial it is to manage a team and create an environment of providing support.

It all turned full circle when I found out I attended one of the elementary schools we serve. At times, it is heartbreaking to see my students share similar struggles with my younger siblings, and to understand that my own family is a part of this larger community struggling with healthy and nutritious food access. Yet, I kept going and eventually learned how to hold on to the little successes, like when my kids try a vegetable they once resisted. Or when my little sister joyfully swallows down her baby carrot after 5 tries. It is in these moments that I find peace with the pace of change.

As one of the quietest AmeriCorps members, I didn’t recognize my own change. Ten months went by and I have quietly evolved from within. I am personally eating more fruits and vegetables than I ever had before. I make sure there are greens at my friends’ potlucks. I naturally have been creating conversations with the people in my life about food and nutrition access. By being part of the Food Literacy Center team, I feel knowledgeable enough to carry these discussions. I’ve become a better advocate for healthy eating.

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